I’m sitting here in Sydney domestic airport waiting for a cheapo flight to Melbourne courtesy of Tiger, and I’m pondering the nature of the Irish mentality towards drinking. We love to drink. We love to go and get sozzled and sizzled and have a good messy time. In our teens and twenties the average Irish person binge drinks at least twice a week. I know that having over six standard drinks a night is considered binge drinking, but we should be cognisant of the fact that it is only certain cultures that really drink hard.
Where does the hard drinking attitude come from? In most continental European cultures alcohol is enjoyed and people do from time to time get inebriated. But in France it is a shameful act to vomit on yourself whereas in Dublin if you cover your shoes in the carrots and spuds of the night before it is regarded as high humour and a badge of honour. In Italy you will find many people having a shot of liquor or brandy with their morning coffee, but it will end there until the glass or two of wine with dinner. In Galway there is the mentality that “eatin’s cheatin” when you are out for the night. Not only do we regard alcohol consumed with food to be unnecessary, it is also tinged with a certain degree of scorn…a weakness. Slow and steady is never any sort of way for us to be.
I wonder why it is we think we can drink so much. I have found that as a race of people we fight more than any other I have met, most times due to heavy intake of alcohol. I find that we are louder and more obnoxious when we are drunk. Who isn’t you ask? Well, most races of people. Sure some like the British, the Yanks and the Australian have similar traits, but do we really want to be thought of as a race of people who get crazy on the piss? Do we want to be held in the same esteem as the people from these nations? Imperial, loud, arrogant nations. We are a different race. We are a small proud Island nation, former Celtic warriors and now a mish mash of a myriad of nationalities. Where does our idea of our nationality fit into the take we have on our drinking?
I think we overlook a massive part of our cultural heritage which, while subjugated, manifests its way into modern existence through hectic consumption of alcohol. We Irish have a wild soul, an untameable spirit that must be free. It must live inside and outside of us. It must fight to be, it must be full of passion, it must love and rebel and question. Over the years it has been in the Alehouses, the Taverns and Pubs that this wildness and freedom has been expressed. These have been the meeting points for minds to converse and expose and plan. This tradition has been and always will be. But the wildness still exists, without the trimmings of alcohol sometimes needed to express it.
Therein lies the problem. The interconnectivity between the two has become twisted in the modern age. Although we have always been a nation of imbibers, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are consuming not as a mode of expression, but more a mode of repression. We drink to hide the pain not express it. We drink to quell the passion, not release it. We get blind drunk because it has become an accepted norm. When do these norms become accepted? The answer is slowly over a period of time. How do we reverse these norms and integrate the machismo of our free selves into our very way of being? The answer is slowly over a period of time.
People I meet from all over the world have a fearful respect for the Irish and our drinking. They all think the same – we can drink. And we do drink…we can drink most nations under the table and still be dancing a merry jig in the morning. But what does that really mean? Are we destined to be great craic and full of slurry wisecracks or are we destined to rise to a higher ground? Have we got the ability to recognise that as a race of people we can do better? Can we see that alcohol drags us down? Slows us up. There is an old saying that the Irish would rule the world if it wasn’t for whiskey. I think that’s pretty close to the truth.
Now I don’t want to come across as some sanctimonious reformed drinker. I don’t want to stop anyone having a good time. I don’t want to stop forms of expression that are released with a few drinks. If I come across as some sort of self-indulgent wanker then so be it. I just want to say that we don’t have to hide ourselves behind booze. Free your wild Irish soul and be proud of it. Let it reign without the mask of booze. Let us recreate what it means to be Irish and display it proudly for all the world to see.